response: July/August 2019 Issue

Partnering With Portugal’s Methodist Women

United Methodist Women supports the Portuguese Methodist Women’s Federation as it empowers women and communities.

Partnering With Portugal’s Methodist Women
Portuguese Methodist Women’s Federation scholarship recipient Filipa Vierra plays her guitar at the Methodist Church in Aguada de Cima, Port

Portugal is a southwestern nation of Europe, with the North Atlantic Ocean bordering to the south and west and Spain bordering to the north and east. Today, 81 percent of the 10.35 million Portuguese citizens claim Roman Catholicism as their religion. According to the World Methodist Council, the membership of the Portuguese Methodist Church is 2,000 people.

The Portuguese Methodist Women’s Federation, with support from United Methodist Women, offers many programs that enrich communities, including preschool and afterschool programs, handicrafts, an annual summer camp for retired community members, a Sunday school, a learning weekend that welcomes all Christian faiths to meet, and scholarships for young women and girls to continue school.

“Our projects are essential to help young women in their studies and help other women grow in their relationships with God and with other women,” said Deaconess Emilia Linhares, coordinator for the federation.

Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark, a preschool and afterschool program, started in 1995. Located in a low-income neighborhood of Braga, it is an all-inclusive program that accepts children from families of all socioeconomic backgrounds and offers a sliding scale of payment based on each family’s income. There are currently 54 children in the nursery, preschool and kindergarten classes. In addition, 34 school-aged children are provided with lunches, transportation to school and afterschool activities and homework help. Noah’s Ark also serves meals to around 12 elderly individuals in their homes and helps with personal hygiene and transportation when needed. In addition to offering salary support, United Methodist Women members’ Mission Giving helped the preschool build accessible facilities and a new, safe playground.

The handicraft group provides a place for women of different Christian faiths to come together and create crafts while building one another up spiritually. A group of Methodist and Catholic women in the small, hilly village of Aguada de Cima meets bimonthly in an auxiliary building at the Methodist church. During our visit the women warmly invited us into their workspace, where they had their creations displayed on a long table. They worked on their current projects while they chatted and laughed. The sale of the products they were creating would be used to raise money to help a local young woman with extensive health problems pay her medical bills.

The summer camp for retirees is a beautiful union of different generations and even cultures that meet in Vila Nova de Gaia, a municipality of Porto, to play and deepen their knowledge of Methodism. Mavilde Gomez, a deacon in the Portuguese Methodist Church, remembered fondly the United Methodist Women members who visited the camp in 2017 as part of an Ubuntu Journey.

“United Methodist Women members joined us that summer. I think it was a very good experience for both sides,” Gomez said. “We liked having them with us and enjoyed their company. It was very interesting, because even though the women from the United States and the group from Portugal didn’t understand each other’s languages, they laughed a lot and played games together.”

Empowering Methodist women

The Portuguese Methodist Women’s Federation, with the financial backing of United Methodist Women, was able to award 19 young women with scholarships in 2018 to assist with secondary school or university education.

The scholarship recipients also give back.

“We have them involved in Sunday school, in the music ministry, and we have two or three women help us in our summer week and our many activities,” said Gomez, noting the importance of providing leadership opportunities and cultivating a sense of community and gratitude to God.

Scholarship recipient Filipa Vierra, 19, is from the small village of Aguada de Cima. She enjoys playing the guitar for church meetings and helping with children’s activities. She is also involved in the women’s federation.

To attend university, she has moved out of her family home because the University of Aveiro is too far away and there is no public transport. Vierra explained that “the fees at university are high, and life in the city center is more expensive.”

This is the first year she has received the scholarship from the federation. She uses the scholarship money for lab materials, photocopies, food and other expenses. She and her mother said that it would not be possible for her to attend university if not for the scholarship. Vierra said she is happy that “this connection exists. Without God’s help, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Anita Rodrigues works in marketing at a cosmetics company in Porto, Portugal. She has attended the Methodist Church since childhood; her parents are very involved in the church, and her mother is the financial manager for the federation. Rodrigues was a scholarship recipient about five years ago.

“The women’s federation helped me with a portion of my course fees. It made all the difference, because I was not able to pay it by myself. It was very important because they helped me to make my dream come true.”

Rodrigues helps the federation as a translator and Sunday school teacher for teens. She expressed great joy in lending a hand in many areas of the church.
“After I got the marketing degree, my role in the church changed,” she said. “I have more skills, and I was able to do more to help the church.”

One project Rodrigues tackles is an e-mail outreach campaign to church members. The e-mails feature handpicked job opportunities as well as notices about people who either need help or can offer help. This helps members of the community help one another. She also helps plan and lead church services, provides support for the bishop and is a powerful female role model within the congregation.

“The money that comes from United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving is quite precious financial help,” said Linhares.

Despite much adversity and marginalization, the Portuguese Methodist Women’s Federation is making a substantial difference in the lives of the people that come to know them. Its members have touched each generation with their hard work and giving spirit. It is strengthening individuals, training women to be leaders and inspiring their communities so the next generation of women will be brave, well-prepared and generous.


Courtney Jansen is a travel enthusiast living in Santa Rosa, California. Nile Sprague is a photojournalist based in Mendocino, California. View more of Nile’s work at nilestyle.com.

Posted or updated: 7/10/2019 12:00:00 AM
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